every year is the same.
This is only the most recent in a number of hideous and cruel events visited upon children under eighteen in the United States every day, in the name of behavior modification. You can learn a little more about behavior modification facilities at this link.
This particular post is about my own three month experience in a behavior modification facility. A boot camp.
In 2002 I graduated high school a year early. I was very smart but not very experienced in the ways of the outside world. I've always been very good socially, but I'd never really held a job for very long or done much outside of my family. Never been in any trouble with the law, never drank or smoked or had sex or anything like that. Blah blah. I went off to a very expensive art college, a very long way from home.
While there I essentially crashed and burned out in the first few months. I became lethargic and depressed. I slept all day and skipped every class, became essentially a shut in for a month or two. Basically, I failed out, and had to be taken home again. I was pretty numb about it, to be honest. That was near the middle of November, 2002. I was seventeen.
At home I continued to be depressed and unmotivated to do anything at all. I'd been prepped my entire high school career for this illustrious success at college, and failing at that was difficult for me. My parents sent me to a new therapist, who spoke to me a lot about "God's plan" for me, which put me automatically into a distrustful position with her as she persisted after I told her I wasn't Christian. I told her nothing. I basically sat at home all day, being sad and feeling lost and not knowing what to do with myself. I spent quite a bit of time on the internet, talking to my friends. Trying to find answers.
At the end of January 2003, my parents informed me that my therapist had recommended I be sent to a "special school". It was described in those exact words. I had visions of kind of a boarding school, which was odd to me, as I already had my diploma. It wasn't a college, either. They asked me how I felt about this school, and if I'd like to go... I said, probably not, thanks. I was then informed that I had been enrolled anyway, and I was to arrive there on February 2nd.
To make a long story short, my parents enrolled me in a "facility for problem students", AKA, a boot camp, those things you seen on daytime television, where Jerry Springer sends mouthy kids off into the woods to get yelled at by fuckwads in military costume. The thing is, that doesn't even really scratch the surface of what these places are like. They're tailored for violent and/or "troubled" kids, neither of which I was.
I spent three months in the facility. It was military run. When we were bad, we exercised until we passed out. When we were too good, we were also made to exercise to the point of exhaustion. Children were hooked to the back of 4-wheelers and dragged when they wouldn't run at exercise time. We were made to scrub and clean every inch of the facility, daily, until our fingers blistered. We were made to eat whether we liked it or not, some children to the point of vomiting. Some children were then made to eat their vomit. We were made to wet our pants by being denied bathroom breaks when they were needed, and being forced to drink excessive amounts of water. Medical complaints went entirely ignored. We learned to say "yes sir" and "yes ma'am" to anyone and everyone, because we were the lowest of the low. We learned that we had been Bad, and now it was time to be broken down and rebuilt. We learned to march in formation. We learned that we were worthless, and we were liars, and that the only way to survive was to suck up, and kicked the other children around until they, too, marched as they were told and kept their eyes pointed forward. Our letters were censored for any mention of problems, pain, or fear.
While there, I turned eighteen (Feb 17th) and thus a legal adult. I attempted to escape, but the facility was located in the middle of the Missouri wilderness and there was nothing to do but hike a mile to the nearest store and call my parents, who convinced me that I should go back, because they'd be oh so proud of me if I completed the program. I returned, having nowhere else to go, and no way to get out of Missouri without their help.
Initially I was extremely rebellious. I spent a great deal of time in solitary confinement, which was essentially a small dark room in which I was made to face the wall, and listen to motivational tapes, over and over again, for literal days at a time. A few times I was made to sleep in there, with nothing but my clothing. While in Solitary one was only fed wheat cereal and water. I endured it all right, at first, but eventually it began to get difficult.
There were a lot of head games played in the facility, especially where I was concerned. I was the oldest (and according to the drill instructors, the smartest) cadet, and they delighted in pointing out the latter to the other cadets, in that textbook attempt to turn them against me so that I would then rise against adversity and become an amazing military leader! Mostly I outsmarted them on that front by being everyone's best friend and crying shoulder. I was made leader of the other cadets, and while in charge of them my team was flawless. Our formations were perfect, our bunks clean and neat and tidy, and our manners perfect. We were so perfect that they began to wake us up in the middle of the night, at one and two am, to exercise until we were exhausted. I think they were trying to see if they could get us to crack. Half of my girls were promoted to the next stage of the program under my leadership, myself included. I think that was my first step towards succumbing to the brainwashing, honestly.
See, brainwashing is a strange thing. When you're in a situation where there is no way to escape what's going on, eventually the people who are hurting you become the people you want to please. It's difficult to avoid. I consider myself an individual of strong mind and personality, but I fell under it, to be honest, and for the last month or so of my time in the program, I was effectively brainwashed. I lived and breathed the program even as I was exercised so hard I cracked a rib. I loved it as I watched them force a girl allergic to orange juice drink two glasses full. While they made a Hindu child eat meat, and then eat her own vomit. It was her own fault, after all. She should have known better. Nothing comes before the program.
About a week before I left, I began a day where I couldn't stop crying. I wasn't feeling anything, to be honest. A quiet blankness, but there were tears streaming down my face, and I was sobbing. I attempted to explain to a drill instructor, reasonably through my sobs, that I thought something was wrong with me. Perhaps I needed to speak to someone. I was told to run laps. I collapsed eventually in hysteria, and was demoted back down to the first level of the program for my upset. That night I was forced to sleep on a stone floor with only a sleeping bag for warmth, in the midst of very cold weather. I think I was beginning to come out of it, then.
The next day I informed the staff I was leaving. They laughed at me and mocked me openly, taunting me and saying that I had nowhere to go, no one to run to. There was no escape. But I was pretty zen. As the sun set that day I took my sleeping bag and walked out of the facility for the second time, in dirty smelly sweat clothes that hadn't been washed in days. My rib was still cracked, and my right knee was screwed up from another injury I'd received there that hadn't been properly treated. (A seriously infected gaping hole in my kneecap, which I'd bashed open on broken cement while being forced to run from the main hall to the dining hall within a certain amount of time; I was only given a doctor's care for it when I could no longer walk properly on the leg.) I left all my of my other stuff behind.
I walked for four miles. Several times people who worked for the facility would drive up along side me in their cars, asking me, don't you want to come back? Aren't you being silly? I told them all, quite literally, to fuck off. Eventually, I found a gas station with a pay phone. I called my father collect, and informed him that if he didn't buy me a plane ticket home immediately, he would never see me again. After a few minutes of discussion, he bought it, a flight that left the next day. I was asked to return to the facility for one more night.
That night was spent sleeping in an entirely seperate room, so that the other cadets could not see me. I was not to speak to them, not to give them any indication that I even still existed at all. (Other girls had disappeared from the program similiarly; we were always told they were sent to the more "violent" facility in Mexico.) Eventually, the owner of the facility drove me to the airport. I told him, also, to fuck off when he attempted to tell me he was disappointed in me for not completing the program. I got on the plane and flew home.
The last thing I remember of that May was meeting my parents at the airport. My next memory is two months later. There is a blank spot in my memory there. I moved out of my parents house that November and into my first apartment in this city, a city I've lived in ever since.
I have triggers, yes. I have a lot of them. They come up in odd ways and at odd times. There's a scene, for example, in the movie V for Vendetta that I have trouble watching, as it reminds me intensely of my solitary confinement. I see a therapist twice a week for PTSD and other issues. I panic sometimes if I feel the urge to use the bathroom, because my subconscious says I won't be allowed to. I'm terrified of letting anyone know that I'm injured or sick or feeling emotionally off. And I bristle up into good soldier mode sometimes, when the right words and attitude are aimed at me. It's been almost four years since my time at the facility, and I'm pretty sure it's never going to fully leave me.
But. I am all right. I am okay. There is that soldier's kneejerk, that "obey or something terrible will happen" feeling. It's not pleasant, but I deal. I am happy, I am whole. It does not rule my life.
Editing this to add a few random horrific things I can remember.
I was told by a drill instructor while there that those of us who had had trouble holding our bladders thanks to all the water we were drinking just weren't concentrating on it hard enough, because a human could go a whole week without urinating. That was, of course, at the point at which the bladder would simply burst instead.
I was told by girls who had been there before me, about being forced to clean out the old basement of asbestos, with bare hands.
I heard of more than one allegation of female cadets being raped, though I never witnessed anything like that.
Most girls, when they were brought in, would have their hair forcibly cut.
A boy died at the place I was sent. In 2004, one of the male cadets was bitten by a brown recluse spider. The facility told him he was faking. He suffered for a week before he died. According to the reports from the case, the other male cadets were forced to drag him into the showers and out again.
We were required to write letters home once a week, but we absolutely could not write anything negative in them at all. They would be carefully read and reviewed before being sent out. Any mention of negative feelings, or negative reports about the facility, and the letter would be given back to be re-written. Punishment was usually doled out afterwards. Similar things happened with phone calls home, in higher levels of the program.
Often times, if you didn't drink all of your four full canteens of water a day, it would be dumped on you. This was in winter, mind you, in Missouri, where it snows.
May add more as I remember them.
Editing to add further: For those of you who're coming here from other peoples' links, hi! Please please please feel free to pass this account on, or to post it in your LJs. The more people who hear about this sort of thing, the better.
The biggest reason that these facilities get away with what they do-- and I will tell you right now that there are hundreds of children in America suffering in them as you read this-- is because nobody hears about them. It sounds entirely sensational when survivors come forward to tell their stories. Many get called liars, especially when/if the facilities get wind of stories being told. Likely, if you tell the nearest person on the street, they won't believe you. I, for one, would love to change that someday.
The youngest children in my facility were twelve(male) and thirteen(female). They were treated with the same amounts of cruelty as the rest of us.
The best way to combat these people is through information. If you're interested in learning more, please visit ISACCORP, who have been invaluable to me in my recovery process.
This is the facility in which I was held.
And this is a list of the children who have died in boot camps and "troubled youth" programs in the past few years.
Edited further: Many times over, parents are also the victims in this. My own were, in a lot of ways. These places do not present themselves truthfully. They disguise what they do to severe extremes. Parents are often fooled into thinking it's, for example, some kind of overnight wilderness camp. Something along those lines. The real evil here is in the facilities themselves.
Also, thank you so so much for all the comments and the links. It's a little overwhelming (in a good way!) and I'm not sure how to respond to everyone except to say, thank you so much for your words of support and encouragement. They mean the world to me. I may not get a chance to reply to you at this point, but please believe me, I am definitely reading. If there are questions do feel free to ask them, and I'll happily do my best to answer.